I recently returned from a trip to Japan. Japan during the Holidays is one of my most favorite time of the year to visit with the many festivals, Holiday illuminations, and special yearend events.
Christmas was, and still is, a secular holiday in Japan – a country where less than 1 percent of the population identifies as Christian. New Years is a much more celebrated and traditional holiday for Japanese families. Even so, one can't help but notice one uniquely Japanese Christmas tradition, Kentucky Fried Chicken!
Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly: Christmas and KFC are completely intertwined in Japan.
Turns out the entire thing can be traced back to one man, Takeshi Okawara, the enterprising manager of the first KFC in Japan, opened in Nagoya in November 1970. It is told that Okawara overheard some expats say that they missed eating turkey for Christmas and that chicken was the next best option, which gave him the idea of promoting the sale of a Christmas party bucket of chicken. Although, officially, KFC denies this version of events, the idea of having KFC at Christmas came to set the tone for Christmas in Japan.
In 1974, the fried chicken party bucket went national with the slogan ケンタッキーはクリスマス！(Kentucky is Christmas!). Perhaps it was the lack of Christmas traditions or Colonel Sanders bearing a striking resemblance to Santa that cemented the connection between fried chicken and Christmas in the minds of many Japanese.
How big of a deal is it really? Every Christmas, about 3.6 million Japanese people treat themselves to KFC with sales between 23 and 25 December of over US$60 million dollars accounting for roughly 5% of KFC Japan's annual revenue.
No matter the version of the story one believes, there is no denying that KFC for the holidays in Japan has become a Christmas tradition. Which all goes to show, at least in our version, the difference one person can make in the lives of many.
It gives us hope that we can too.
From all of us at Red String to all of you, we wish you and yours a very joyous, warm, and safe Holiday season.
(to be continued)